Nelson: Property taxes are the most evil of them all
"How much local control do you have over the assessed value of your home, which determines your property tax?" asks InForum columnist Ross Nelson.
“Taxes are what we pay for civilized society.” -Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
“The power to tax involves the power to destroy.” -Chief Justice John Marshall
We, specifying my wife and I, recently paid the property tax on our modest little patch on the prairie. The amount was increased 40% — in one year.
This, after a major upward adjustment just a few years ago to get us “caught up” with rising property value assessments. When I spoke with a Cass County tax assessor about this punch in the solar plexus I was told it was because of the prices others were paying for their properties miles away. We are competing with people who are plopping down $300,000 and more for a piece of the American dream, a sum we could only dream of.
He also told me to expect five to ten percent yearly increases in our property tax from now on. (Florida caps its increases to three percent a year on homestead properties regardless of their assessment value.) Our tax could more than double in ten years, making living here a difficult proposition. Certainly our income won't increase in that time and, with eventual retirement, will decrease. He urged that we not sell because of the ever-more onerous tax burden, but Cass County and its lesser political subdivisions seem intent on forcing us out.
Do you wonder why I consider property taxes to be possibly the most evil tax of all, that anyone can be taxed on value he hasn't realized and won't until he moves or dies? Sure, we could borrow against this paper value of our home, but serious debt at this stage of our lives would be beyond foolish. Of course, any capital gain on our property would be obliterated by the cost of any other home we could buy in this area, so we would be ahead nothing.
Consider what a great deal this tax is for our local governments. Suppose a city block of long-established homes' value is assessed at a million dollars. Now assume that a block of new homes is added on and assessed at two (or more) million dollars. Suddenly the now reassessed old block's property tax burden doubled while not a cent more is needed for the services it has been receiving all along. That whistle you hear in the distance is local governments' gravy train pulling out.
What's more, one can't use the excuse that more people in an area require higher tax rates to service them, because all else equal the tax base is now that much deeper and broader. This point is always lost on local governments which seem to think that rates must increase when in fact the extra taxes paid by the newcomers should cover the expenses.
We are a SISK family: Single income, several kids. We supported the project to abolish property taxes some years ago, but the “local control” folks put the fear into everyone. Ask yourself: how much local control do you have over the assessed value of your home, which determines your property tax? If it's little or none, reconsider your stance. Taxation with representation is a canard.
Nelson lives in Casselton, N.D., and is a regular contributor to The Forum’s opinion page. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org .
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.